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Standing Rock Sioux Defend Right to Clean Water, Part 1

Earth’s Water

Seventy percent of the earth is covered in water but only 2.5 percent of that water is potable or usable for human survival. Of that 2.5 percent only 1 percent is accessible. In addition, there are five basic survival needs for human beings. Those needs are 1. Oxygen 2. Water 3. Food 4. Shelter 5. Sleep. All five are required for survival. Remove any one of the basic five needs, and we cease to survive.

Limited media coverage has been afforded to the protest of Standing Rock Sioux, but many who use social media have at least heard the term used. This protest, in essence, is to protect the drinking water of millions of people from potential future contamination by the Dakota Access Pipeline that is crossing the Missouri River in North Dakota.

Water as a Human Right

The pipeline, if it starts leaking or discharging raw crude, will directly impact the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and all those who rely on that water below the pipeline crossing. The Sioux, and protesters from all walks of life as well as members of other tribes, have joined together to protest this pipeline. In 2010, the United Nations, through resolution 64/292, explicitly recognized the human right to water and sanitation, and acknowledged that clean water and sanitation are essential rights for all human beings.

This post is part of a three-part series regarding the protest at Standing Rock over that right. I am going to collaborate with my long-time and close friend Sakoieta Widrick of the Mohawk tribe because, although this can be understood in many cultures, it is only from the Native American perspective that it can be realistically told. Sakoieta teaches at Brock University in Canada, and I have come to value his wisdom and insight over the years that we have been friends. I can think of no one better to collaborate with that would be objective and still informative on such a controversial topic. Following are the comments from Sakoieta in italics.

Native American Perspective

It is taught to us from childhood as Indigenous people that each day we rise we give thanks to all the waters of the world for quenching our thirst and providing us with strength and cleansing. Water is life. We know its power in many forms‐beautiful waterfalls and precious rain, mists and bubbling streams, flowing rivers and huge powerful oceans. With one mind, we join our thoughts with the people of the world and we send greetings and thanks to the spirit of Water. Now our minds are one.

Our Creator made those rivers and lakes and he said whenever you're dry and thirsty, go there, any river, any stream, and it will quench your thirst, for that is the way I make the world." However, the responsibilities of the Waters are much more than this. We say that the Waters are the bloodlines of our Mother Earth. As such, they have important responsibilities to carry sustenance to the rest of Creation. We know how important water is to our gardens, to the plant life that needs a constant source of water to grow. The Thanksgiving Address reminds us that it is our responsibility to take care of all life, including the waters.

We recognize that all life is interrelated. If the Waters are to fulfill their responsibilities, then we must ensure that they have the opportunity to do so. This is what is meant by us keeping them clean so that a “heart attack” does not one day come to our Mother Earth. If our blood becomes contaminated, it will spread throughout our bodies and reach our heart, killing us.

To approach our water sources with anything but reverence is foolish. It is that 1 percent that is keeping us all alive. Without it, we die. This may not be a good analogy but consider for a moment that some company decided to put a drop forge right next to your home. The pounding and noise would keep you awake and it wouldn’t take long to become sleep-deprived and ultimately, you would weaken and die. Those who work in shifts at the drop forge can go to their homes for quiet and rest, but you would hear it 24/7, banging away. It is the same with putting our water source at risk. Sooner or later, the pipeline will leak and contaminate the water. Then, it is too late to use the water for its life-giving purpose and the 1 percent is further diminished.

Resource Contamination Affects Us All

The Sioux are facing the same situation and they are enduring abuse while peacefully protesting its location in proximity to their valuable water source. We should all be protesting putting any crude-oil pipeline where it can contaminate a water source. The Sioux protesters are taking their responsibility seriously and so should all of us. We all suffer from depletion of one of our survival needs.

As my friend Sakoieta frequently says, “The best chief is not the one who persuades people to his point of view. It is instead the one in whose presence most people find it easiest to arrive at the truth."

While we all will benefit from the protest against the pipeline by the Sioux, it seems to me that it would benefit us all to stand in solidarity with them in support of our universal right to clean water. It is through their presence and peaceful protest that we will find and recognize the truth.

Part 2 will cover pipeline leaks more generally and the hazards they potentially can pose to water sources.